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6-Step Plan to Achieve Ambitious Endurance Sports Goals

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Accomplishing ambitious goals in endurance sports requires planning. CTS Coaches prepare elite athletes for success at the world’s premier events, as well as first-timers to take on challenging personal goals, and all athletes between these two extremes. The specific workouts and plans vary widely, but the underlying process is rooted in the same fundamentals of sports science and coaching methodology. If you have an ambitious goal you’re shooting for, here is a 6-step plan to make that goal become reality.

Make it personal

Long-term goals require a lot of commitment, and you’re more likely to stay committed to a goal you find personally valuable. Even more important, the value needs to be intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Something is intrinsically valuable when it is valuable on its own or in its own right. You don’t need external validation for it. It doesn’t need to matter to anyone else, and you are not pursuing it for anyone else. When things got tough in the training process, intrinsic, personal goals keep you energized and moving forward.

Determine what success looks like

This is a crucial question for anyone pursuing a goal. Success looks different for different people. For some athletes, winning is the only definition of success. But for athletes who are not as competitive, success may be achieving a goal time, riding or running with a friend in an event, or feeling strong and prepared all the way to the finish line. Particularly in endurance sports, where much of the outcome is out of your control, athletes must learn to define their vision for success.

Start Early

The earlier to you start working on your goal the better you can prepare and the more you’re able to compensate for inevitable setbacks. Not only is it important to start early, but it’s also important to be highly committed at the beginning. Typically, you can make a lot of progress quickly at the beginning, and then the steps and work required for progress get more difficult as you get closer to your goal. Diminishing returns is one reality of endurance training. Take advantage of those early weeks and months by being consistent (don’t miss workouts), following your plan as closely as possible (compliance), and communicating clearly with a coach.

Don’t get lackadaisical about goals that are long way in the future. That time will go by faster than you think, and you can’t get it back.

Build your team

When you’re pursuing a valuable and ambitious sporting goal, a great support team (family, coach, friends, massage therapist, physical therapist, doctor, etc.) plays a pivotal role in enabling you to achieve your goal. Although there are a ton of resources available for DIY training, as a self-trained athlete you are also your biggest roadblock or blind spot. The training you are doing affects your outlook and mood. When effective training leads to fatigue and perhaps some moodiness and irritability, you are not in the best frame of mind to evaluate your progress and make decisions about future training.

Do your homework

Remember former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld? Love him or hate him, he talked about known knowns (things you know you know), known unknowns (things you know you don’t know), and unknown unknowns (things you don’t know you don’t know). When you’re preparing to do anything for the first time, all three of those conditions are true. That’s why doing your homework is huge part of accomplishing any goal. You must eliminate as many known unknowns as possible and uncover as many unknown unknowns as you can. You will never know everything, but the more you know the better prepared you’ll be to figure out unexpected problems.

Don’t let up

A disproportionate number of goals go off the rails close the finish line. When you work toward a goal for months or even years, a certain level of cognitive fatigue sets in. You’re so close to completing your goal, but you’re also tired of focusing on it. This sometimes leads people to lose focus and get distracted when they’ve already done 95% of the work! On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who get overconfident about their preparation and think they can let up and coast the rest of the way to their event. You don’t want to make either mistake. Stay focused, lean on your support team for encouragement, and don’t take anything for granted.

These six steps have helped CTS Athletes achieve some of the most valuable goals in their lives, and some of the greatest victories in endurance sports. Our hope is that you can use them – or are already using them – to achieve valuable goals in your own life!

By Jim Rutberg,
CTS Pro Coach, co-author of “Ride Inside“, “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”, and “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning

Photo: LUX/CTS Cycling Development Team rider Alex Gustin, coached by CTS Coach Jim Lehman, won the Men’s 17-18 TT at the 2022 USA Cycling National Championships.


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Comments 2

  1. This is a great run down and words to live by. All of this was true on why I finished the entire route of Race Across France (2500km) and also true why I did not finish Race Across Belgium (which is half the distance at 1080km). If your personal commitment – why – isn’t strong you will find it hard to continue when conditions get difficult. In France I had no way to quit without significant costs and hardship. In Belgium, my why was weak and it was easy to quit. Your personal WHY will keep you going one pedal stroke or one step at a time until the funk wears off – progress is progress in endurance events. Sometimes it becomes the goal – just to endure.

  2. So true! When the goal is far off and your training increases as the time draws near; it is very hard for me to stay focused and not start coasting at the level of fitness that is already achieved.

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